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Prime privacy intrusion: Amazon rolls out BODY-SCANNING fitness tracker that detects EMOTIONS in voice

Prime privacy intrusion: Amazon rolls out BODY-SCANNING fitness tracker that detects EMOTIONS in voice
Amazon’s new fitness tracker ‘Halo’ takes technological intrusion to new levels, scanning the user’s body and tracking the emotions in their voice. Even mainstream media coverage says the tech’s privacy implications are troubling.

Like most fitness trackers, the retail behemoth’s new wearable Halo monitors cardio activity, motion and sleep. Unlike most trackers, it also records body fat and voice tone – in ways that some users might find uncomfortably intrusive.

Not only can the device track your current body fat percentage (with the help of machine learning, no less!) by working with your smartphone’s camera (red alert!) to photograph you in your underwear – it can show you your ideal self using a slider that fattens and slims the 3D model it creates. Endless hours of crushing inadequacy are at your fingertips! Amazon told the Verge it has built-in safeguards against encouraging eating disorders, explaining the slider doesn’t dip below “dangerously low” levels of body fat and can’t be used by customers under 18. 

More ominous is the screenless wristband’s ‘tone analysis’ feature, which purports to analyze the user’s emotions by listening to their voice. “Maybe you thought you sounded affectionate but actually sounded bored,” Amazon’s commercial for the Halo chirps, implying the device will be monitoring all social interactions so you can play them back ad infinitum, brooding over where exactly your failed attempt to pick up that fetching stranger in the bar went awry.

There are a few token gestures toward privacy – Amazon claims to delete the 3D body scans its AI generates after you finish perusing your flabby bits in excruciating detail, and the microphone that tracks your emotions supposedly remains dormant unless you “opt in” to having your feelings monitored. Your voice, Amazon claims, is never uploaded to any of its servers or heard by any humans – though Alexa users might recall they’ve heard that before.

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However, the Halo app analyzes voice snippets for emotion by sending them to your smartphone, even though Amazon pinky-swears nothing is going to its cloud (except, briefly, the 3D body scans). At the same time, the company uses Halo’s intrusiveness as a selling point. 

It’s time to see how the daily choices we make – from how much we move, to how well we sleep, to how we communicate, to how we measure our body, all connect to form a more complete picture of our health,” its commercial enthuses, not merely acknowledging but bragging that it tracks all these things.

On top of these details, the user has the option to access “labs” offered by the company’s software development partners, featuring behavioral ‘nudges’ that teach meditation, exercise routines and improved sleep habits. While Amazon claims lab developers must submit “scientific evidence” of their effectiveness and are subject to audit at any time, it’s not clear how rigorous this process is, and the company admits data is shared with these third parties – though only in an “aggregated, anonymous way.”

Even users who don’t use the labs are urged by Halo to reach a weekly activity target – and have points deducted from their ‘score’ if they go more than eight hours without getting off the couch. This score isn’t necessarily hypothetical – users have the option of syncing up the device with certain healthcare providers, opening the door to all manner of data plundering in the name of minor premium discounts.

The device is water-resistant and its battery lasts a week, suggesting it’s meant to be worn 24/7. After all, it can’t track your sleep if you’ve gone and removed it. For now, it’s available on an invite-only basis, with six months of free service (yes, in addition to buying the device, one has to pay $3.99 per month to be surveilled by it) to sweeten the deal. 

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Perhaps hoping to turn over a new leaf, Amazon has not included an explicit link-up with its Alexa virtual assistant. Promotional materials for Halo include no mention of whether it too purports to be able to diagnose coronavirus in the wearer. 

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